Channel 4 News has been formally reprimanded by broadcasting regulator Ofcom for incorrectly identifying the Westminster terror attacker.
On March 22nd this year, senior home affairs correspondent Simon Israel incorrectly reported that the attacker who drove a van across Westminster Bridge and stabbed a policeman to death before being shot himself was Abu Izzadeen, when in fact he was in prison. The following day, it was confirmed that the attacker was Khalid Masood.
The broadcaster relied on a single source for the information but broadcast the claims anyway, with Israel telling viewers: “I’ve had it confirmed within the last half an hour that the suspect who the police shot dead is Abu Izzadeen, formerly known as Trevor Brooks, aged 41, and who has had a very long history of association with Islamist extremism, a very long one.”
During the course of the programme, Trevor Brooks’ brother called the programme to point out that he was in prison, causing C4 News to backtrack on the claims. The bulletin was pulled from its catch-up service Channel 4+1 and Israel admitted his error on Twitter.
The source I trusted, but ultimately I made a mistake. This time I got it wrong. Abu Izzadeen is in prison.
Now Ofcom has found C4 News to be in breach of rules over accuracy and has ordered the broadcaster to air its highly critical judgement of the mistake.
The regulator said: “We considered that by incorrectly stating that Abu Izzadeen was responsible for multiple killings, murdering a police officer and carrying out the attack, and reprising that theme throughout the first 35 minutes of the programme, the Licensee had broadcast a significant inaccuracy. Given the particularly high audience expectations that there would have been for this programme, in our view, this inaccuracy was of such magnitude and given such prominence that it was not fully mitigated by the later steps taken in the programme to correct the error. Therefore, when considering the programme as a whole, Ofcom considered that it was not duly accurate.
“Ofcom recognises that decisions to broadcast material of this nature, when a news story is evolving, are often made at times of intense pressure and involve fine editorial judgements. It is important that broadcasters are able fully to inform the audience of developments in an event of significant public interest. However, in doing so it is also important to ensure that viewers are not misled and that such events are reported with due accuracy.
“We acknowledge that breaking news requires editorial teams to make decisions rapidly while under intense pressure. However, Channel 4 News’ rush to get this story to air resulted in it broadcasting a significant error on a major news story.”
The broadcaster was ordered to air a summary of Ofcom’s decision “in a form and manner to be decided by Ofcom”.
Channel 4 News expects to air the details of the decision soon but it will not be broadcast in tonight’s edition of the programme, a source has confirmed.
The seriousness of the breach was underlined by an Ofcom statement which said: “We found Channel 4 News committed a serious breach of broadcasting rules, after it wrongly identified the Westminster terror attacker. Channel 4 News incorrectly referred to the same person throughout its report, and subsequent steps to mitigate the error were insufficient.
“This is the fourth time in three years we have found Channel 4 in breach of its requirement to report news with due accuracy. We are particularly concerned that another serious breach has happened, given Channel 4’s previous assurances to Ofcom that improvements to its compliance processes were being made. Considering the seriousness of this breach, we are requiring Channel 4 News to air a summary of our breach decision.”
A Channel 4 News statement today said: “Channel 4 News takes its obligations under the Ofcom Broadcasting Code extremely seriously and is committed to providing audiences with high-quality, accurate and impartial news programming. We have participated fully in Ofcom’s investigation and note the regulator’s ruling which takes into account the immediate steps taken to correct and clarify the error during the course of the programme.”
The broadcaster added: “We acknowledge Ofcom’s ruling. Channel 4 and ITN takes this matter very seriously and we are working with Channel 4 News to review and improve their existing editorial and oversight procedures.
“This was a fast-moving story, broadcast in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack, Channel 4 News moved swiftly to correct and clarify the facts as conflicting information came to light. We note that Ofcom acknowledges Channel 4 News made appropriate corrections while on air; removed the programme from other platforms and carried a full correction and apology the following day.”
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.